It’s a cool Friday evening, and I’m sitting on a bench, reading a book by Cardinal Dolan. I’ve been fasting—though I am drinking coffee, because I’m a Portland seminarian, and it’s generally accepted that if you pierced one of our sides, blood and coffee would flow out. The bell tolls for night prayer, so I gather myself and walk up to the abbey church. It’s empty, apart from the monks in their choir stalls, and one guy in the front row.
Naturally, I go up and sit next to him. Turns out it’s my buddy Emilio. After we commend our spirits into the hands of our Lord, we step out together into the darkness beyond the church doors. It’s still cool, not cold yet. He says, “Do you want to go to McDonald’s?” My stomach says yes, but I stand firm. I tell him, “I’ve been fasting. I’ll go with you—I don’t think I want to eat anything, though.”
So we drive to McDonald’s. He turns up The Head and the Heart and sings like he’s on stage, pounding the steering wheel, conducting with one hand. I know there’s California, Oklahoma, and / all of the places I ain’t ever been to, but / down in the valley, with / whiskey rivers / these are the places you will find me hidin’. You feel like you can almost see music by watching him sing. I don’t even know the words and I can’t help but sing along at the top of my lungs.
A couple of Filet o’Fish sandwiches later, we’re heading back to the car, and we hear cheering, and a marching band. It’s coming from beyond the bushes behind the McDonald’s. “Dude,” Emilio looks right at me. “That sounds like high school football!”
Beyond the bushes are some railroad tracks, and beyond that, a fence, and beyond that, a high school, where, yes, a football game is in progress. Half-time. Homecoming night. Silverton vs. Lebanon, and the home team is doing well. It’s 28-0 by the time we join the crowd, from our vantage point in the bushes, across the railroad tracks. “Man, I miss high school,” Emilio tells me approximately one hundred times, while we watch the band play, and homies throw a football back and forth on the school track until a teacher takes it away from them. He announced a football game once, he says. He was the guy who ran up and down in front of the stands with the school flag.
We are not alone in the bushes behind the McDonald’s. There is a woman there, middle-aged, whose name is literally Latonya, watching the game with her grandson, Everett, probably 6-8 years old, who introduces himself by telling us that he plays football too, and “we have to win this game!” he exclaims, bouncing up and down with the force of his conviction. He wears his own Silverton Foxes jersey as proudly as anyone has probably worn anything, ever, in the history of the human race.
So we watch Silverton’s homecoming game, something I never even did at my own high school, Latonya and Everett and Emilio and I. She asks if we go to school there. We laugh. “Alumni?” she guesses. “No,” we tell her. “We’re seminarians, from Mount Angel.”
Oh, she knows all about Mt. Angel. She used to be a police officer in the town at the bottom of the hill. She remembers patrolling in the dead of night, up and down the winding road past the Stations of the Cross to the abbey. “Where are you from?” she asks us, and we tell her, Bakersfield, and Roseburg. “What’s your goal?” she wants to know. “Just priesthood, or…?” She trails off, unsure how to phrase her question, which is: “What are you two doing with your lives?”
We help her out, tell her our vocation stories, explain how the seminary works and where we’ll go after we’re finished. Invite her up to the abbey anytime. She says she wants to bring the little guy up there to see the museum. We all cheer when Silverton scores a touchdown. It’s a rout. Latonya says she’s never liked it when the loser doesn’t even stand a chance.
Finally, my stomach gets the better of me. “The liturgical day ends at sunset, right?” I ask, meaning “the time for fasting is over and I need some food,” only Emilio knows what I mean already without my having to explain, so we say our good-byes and exit the bush.
And who should we see in the drive through but two of our fellow seminarians? Picture, if you will: Emilio and I, disheveled, picking our way out of the bushes behind the McDonald’s, in the dark—followed by a middle-aged woman—followed by a kid. “Ooh, I’m gonna tell formation!” Ivan cackles, as they pull up to the window. “I’m gonna tell your bishop!”
We drive past them on our way out. Emilio turns up the stereo—it’s mariachi now—and sings along at the top of his lungs. I still don’t know the words. Still can’t help but sing too.